Boston Parents, Teachers and Students Speak Out

Boston School Closing Protest

Boston School Closing Protest

Statement from Bryan Moore, a student at Excel High School

Goliath has Fallen

The Boston school district was once regarded as one of the best public schools districts in the United States.  I fear that this title has come to an abrupt end.  The School Committee did not listen to the pleas, cries, outbursts, and suggestions by parents, teachers, supporters, and students.  The words of the community seem to have gone in one ear and went out the other.  What has happened to the once great school system I have come to know and appreciate?

The School Committee has said “We are listening to the community and doing what is best for them.”  And yet, the community said no, but to them it was a yes.  The only thing that was coming out of their mouths was budget, budget, budget.  The old saying goes “if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it.”  So why is it that they are trying to repair something that is not broken?  Excel High School has built a widely known reputation with colleges, and I fear that this reputation will be tarnished by the merger.  As of December 15, 2010, the Boston School committee has changed their slogan from “we want what is best for the students and for the children” to “we can do whatever we like”.  The people have spoken a countless times that they against the closings, against the mergers, against change.  Maybe some of those schools did need to be closed and students reassigned to another school, but some of the mergers are a bit ridiculous.

For example, Excel and Monument have shown time and time again that they can stand on their own two feet without any support, but the School Committee blatantly disregarded that for their own greedy pleasure.  Furthermore, the merger dehumanizes the teachers.  It makes them fight and claw for their job that was once secure.  So now the question is what was the point?  If they were just going to pass the plan anyway, why have the community voice their opinion?  To have a “democracy” of the people’s wants and needs? To show that they “care” about what the community wants?  To show that they are “listening” to what we want?  When they say budget this budget that, they seem to have forgotten that the community is their budget.

I have taken it upon myself that I will try my hardest to keep Excel High School the way it is. Once the vote passed everyone had given up hope, but not me. I still think that Excel High can be saved. This letter that I have written will prove just that.

Statement by Benvinda Soares-Timas, teacher at Emerson School

Good evening, Rev. Groover, Dr. Johnson, and members of the School Committee:

My name is Benvinda Soares-Timas. I am a teacher from the Emerson School.

I have a few concerns that I didn’t get to address at our last meeting.

  1. Regarding your proposal to send the SEI to the King. King is a K-8 school. Our program is K-5. My question is, what is going to happen to the 5th graders when they move to 6th? Are they going to be sent to Dearborn, since it is the only middle school where there is an SEI Cape Verdean program? Wouldn’t it be sensible to merge the Emerson with the Dearborn? That is where most of their siblings are, anyway.
  2. At the Emerson, we begin our mornings with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by our school creed and the Pledge for Peace. How ironic: One nation under God! With liberty and justice for all?? Our parents don’t have the liberty to choose the school they want for their children. Justice for all?? Where is the justice for Cape Verdean students??
  3. As mentioned by Francesca, we instill all of these values in our students, that through hard work and determination they will achieve success. (Here goes AVID, a philosophy that the district wants to be implemented. AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.) Our students are determined to advance and succeed. How can they when they are not given the support? Give us the support!

Alafia Spencer, from the Engineering School at the Hyde Park Educational Complex, said that several years ago, the staff and parents together worked hard for months to divide Hyde Park High School into three small schools – the Social Justice Academy, the Engineering School, and the Community Academy for Science and Health (CASH), using money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the process. The superintendent has proposed that only CASH remain intact and move to another site, while the other two will close. Spencer, who was fighting back tears, made the statement below at a School Committee meeting.

–The Editors

Statement by Alafia Spencer, Engineering School at Hyde Park Educational Complex
“Several years ago, we went along with your recommendation that Hyde Park High be split into three schools. Parents, teachers, the whole community joined together to plan it. It was very difficult. We were assigned a large number of OCD students but we did our best to be integrated and also keep our scores up. Is there any other way to keep us open? I’m also saying this for the Social Justice Academy…Now all our hard work and dedication has come to an end. You told us it would be better to have small schools…We are closing the achievement gap every year. We are improving graduation rates…Now it seems like the Bill and Melinda Gates money was for nothing.”

Superintendent Carol Johnson and committee members listen to testimony from the community.

Statement by Carl Nagy-Koechlin, parent of Lee Academy students:
“We’re here to advocate, but not at the expense of the other schools. There are people here who would walk across hot coals to save our schools…$63 million is a lot of money, but our kids’ education is priceless. We need to stand together and fight this.”

Statement by Amy Rugel, retired teacher and currently a volunteer and philanthropist at the East Zone Early Learning Center (ELC) in Dorchester
“Until retiring, I taught kindergarten in Boston for 30 years. The last and most satisfying ten years were at the Early Learning Center East. Now I volunteer there. The ELC is a happy, stimulating learning environment and a wonderful place to teach.

At large elementary schools, I felt that the educational and social-emotional needs of the youngest students were overlooked. When assigned to the ELC in Dorchester, I was overjoyed. Here, the focus was on the needs of young children and a curriculum written with Wheelock College. It was one of Boston’s first and finest models of a self-contained, early education program with a surroundcare component. Working parents knew their children were well cared for from 7:30 am until 6:00 pm and were receiving an excellent education.

Parents today are still grateful for this opportunity. That is why there is a waiting list of over 200 children. In this center of 132 three- to seven-year-olds, in a one-level building, with an age-appropriate playground circled by trees planted by parents, children feel safe, secure and nurtured. The school’s motto is “ELC—a good place to grow!” It is. We support their growth and watch them thrive. As an educator, it seems obvious that this kind of environment is best for very young children.

At the ELC, we have developed a program teaching children to be peacemakers. Children learn how to get along peacefully in a school community, and how to treat each other with respect and kindness. They are recognized for positive behavior at school assemblies, and have been inspired to write poems and songs on the theme. The ELC is an ideal setting to support this kind of pro- social and emotional development which is so crucial, and so neglected. For years this kind of learning has been a priority. Now the state has mandated anti-bullying curriculum in all schools…BUT, this kind of important learning is not measured on MCAS tests.

For the past eight years, I have given money to the ELC for enrichment activities to provide students with opportunities they would not normally have… For the past eight years, I have also provided money to bus all kindergarten children in the BPS to the Children’s Museum. Museums, hands-on science experiments, puppet shows, field trips in the city and outside, etc offer rich experiences for building knowledge. Unfortunately, this kind of experiential learning is not measured on an MCAS test…

What is the measure of a good quality school? At the ELC, we believed we were a good school. That was until we recently heard we were “underperforming” and “weak.” This came as a shock since on most measures our children performed well. It is true that we have not yet been certified by the NAEYC, but this is not because we don’t qualify. With a change in leadership a few years ago, the process was interrupted, but is now back on track. Our practices are consistent with those of the NAEYC.

Dr. Johnson, we honestly don’t understand the reasons for closing our school. Is it because of math MCAS scores of 21 third graders who left ELC two years earlier?? Does this justify the designation of “underperforming”? Is this a valid measure of school quality? We know you are under tremendous pressure to make spending cuts. But we were told that the decision to close schools would not be about saving money but improving academic opportunities. Is sending our very young students to large schools improving their opportunities? We were told our school building is in disrepair and would require millions of dollars to fix. In the most recent school environmental report, I read that there was no indication of building repairs needed…

What we need is a complete and honest explanation of why our successful school was selected. Please, members of the School Committee and Dr. Johnson, make the best decision for our students and the Boston community and keep the ELC East open. Thank you.”

Statement to Boston School Committee on Wednesday 12-8-10 by Jacquelyn Driscoll
“Good evening. My name is Jacquelyn Driscoll and I’m speaking on behalf of our Agassiz family.  I find it synchronistic that anti-bullying was on the School Committee’s agenda earlier this evening as we now discuss closing our school and displacing our students to schools all over the West Zone.  As the Character Education teacher at the Agassiz, I know that our students are deeply learning about bullies, targets and how to develop their own sense of self-worth and how to become ‘bully-proof.’

Please understand that if you vote to close our school, you are creating the kind of upheaval and instability that too many of our students are challenged with, in their daily lives, already.  Our student community will be dispersed, stripping them of their sense of safety and consistency, and opening them up as prime targets of bullying as they have to establish a new group of friends, a relationship with new staff and a place in an unfamiliar facility.

This week, during one lesson a fourth grade student said, “Ya, that’s what we’re doing by making signs so THEY don’t close our school.” When I asked who “THEY” were, she said, “the bullies who want to close our school.”  I had to spend some time revisiting and clarifying issues around bullying but in my heart, I understood how she felt.

We were told 7 days ago that our school could be closed.

Last year, 83% of our students passed the ELA/Math MCAS but our school may be closed.

We’ve been told by BPS officials informally that our academic growth and performance has outpaced others in the district but our school may be closed.

Several millions were invested last year on new windows and four weeks ago a new gym roof was promised (construction due to start in June 2011) but our school may be closed.

We are a Turnaround School, promised 3 years and additional Federal Funding beginning September this year, but our school may be closed.

The Department of Justice visited our school this Fall and communicated to our principal that they were very pleased with our implementation of services for our ELLs but our school may be closed.

The MATCH International Charter School application, with letters of support from a Deputy Superintendent and a School Committee member, is looking to move into a leased school building in Jamaica Plain. Do you know of any other school buildings closing in J.P.? Well, our school may be closed.

Please do not vote to close our school. Our students feel safe, well cared for and academically challenged. Thank you.”

Statement by Richard Stutman, President of the Boston Teachers Union:

Good evening members of the school committee, Dr. Johnson, teachers, parents, and students.

I am Richard Stutman, president of the BTU, and I stand here in support of the hundreds of people who are protesting this ill-conceived plan.

We are here because we care about our schools—and these are good schools—and we decry any attempt to close our schools under false pretenses.

The schools chosen are not underperforming schools, they are not dysfunctional schools.

This proposal has nothing to do with educational concerns and all to do with economic concerns.

We call upon you, as representatives of the people of Boston, to get out to each of these schools, observe its operation, study its data, and then look staff, students, and parents in the eye and tell them that closing their school and moving their children will result in a better education.

The truth is, there is no guarantee—not even a remote possibility—that moving children out of these schools will result in a better education for the children who currently reside there.

I call upon you start all over and re-do this process. To close these schools primarily because they are small or because you want to re-use their buildings or because you promised their building to a charter school—is a disservice to all of us who care about our schools, and will only drive more people away from our schools, especially those that work well.

Thank you.

Statement by Ann O’Halloran, CPS board member abd 2007 Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year to the Boston School Committee , December 8, 2010

Good evening. My name is Ann O’Halloran. I’m here representing Citizens for Public Schools, a state-wide Advocacy Organization supporting public education.

My first career was as a public school teacher. In 1972 I began 30 years of teaching at the Joseph Lee School in Dorchester. Over those years I taught students with special needs, typical students, many METCO students and ultimately a co-taught inclusive classroom – in a total of 7 schools, urban and suburban.

In 2007 I was named Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year, based on our innovative history/language arts curriculum which reached all students in our inclusive classroom.

Several of us from Citizens for Public Schools have been coming to these meetings over many weeks and closely following the developments and including them in our newsletter. The stories we have heard are heartbreaking!

Good schools are being closed, children and teachers are being moved around like pawns on a chessboard, programs are ending, transportation is being cut.

Here are two of our major concerns about the overall context within which this is happening . . .

1. Charter schools are draining millions of dollars away from Boston schools. By 2017 Boston is expected to lose as much as $170 million per year, under the legislation which will allow 18% of a district’s budget to go toward charters.

Right now the cost of charter school tuition in Boston is $64,062,185 for “tuition” for 5,417 students. There IS some short term reimbursement of several million dollars this year – but that quickly fades out. There is also $4.8 million of state money awarded to Boston charters for so-called facilities aid. This has been fully reimbursed (with state funds – public tax dollars) but that could change, as the state’s budget picture continues to darken.

These dollars granted to charter schools, with the approval of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but NOT of the citizens of Boston who actually foot the bill. Those dollars are just about equal to Boston’s school budget shortfall.

That missing money compromises the ability of the city to maintain and staff its buildings.

While there are many dedicated teachers and parents involved with individual charter schools, as a general policy charter schools are not the answer.

The original idea of a charter school was to create a laboratory for innovative practices. Instead, national and state policy sets them up in competition with public schools, at the same time as it takes resources away from the public schools.  Legislation passed last January at the State House lifted the cap on the number of charter schools, thus setting up more future budget shortfalls. That policy needs to change.

2. High-stakes standardized tests like the MCAS are being used to justify school closings, teacher dismissals, and denial of diplomas to students in Massachusetts, as in other states across the country. These tests were never designed to be used this way, and they are not valid or reliable for these purposes. Many parents and students at these meetings have pointed out the good work their schools are doing to improve education, provide a nurturing environment, supporting diversity of student strengths and backgrounds — good work that is not always immediately reflected in test scores. One school spokesperson questioned why the city is closing their school, instead of helping them continue to improve.

We concur with Councilman Felix Arroyo who two weeks ago urged the committee to work with other city officials around these issues. He felt that these decisions were too rushed. He noted – we expected to close our neighborhood libraries this past year, but they’re still operating.

We concur with Boston State Representative Liz Malia and the other reps who opposed the legislation which enabled these destructive actions to take place and who believe there are other solutions besides closings of schools which are so important to their communities.

The 24-hour notice of closure which devastated the Agassiz School community last week is a WARNING SIGN that there is too much of a rush to judgment in the current planning.